Tunes of Glory

Tunes of Glory is a 1960 British drama film directed by Ronald Neame, based on the 1956 novel and screenplay by James Kennaway. The film is a "dark psychological drama" focusing on events in a wintry Scottish Highland regimental barracks in the period following the Second World War.[1] It stars Alec Guinness and John Mills, featuring Dennis Price, Kay Walsh, John Fraser, Duncan MacRae, Gordon Jackson and Susannah York.

Tunes of Glory
Tunes of glory76.jpg
theatrical poster
Directed byRonald Neame
Produced byColin Lesslie
Screenplay byJames Kennaway
Based onTunes of Glory
1956 novel
by James Kennaway
StarringAlec Guinness
John Mills
Music byMalcolm Arnold
CinematographyArthur Ibbetson
Edited byAnne V. Coates
Knightsbridge Films
Distributed byUnited Artists
Lopert Pictures (US)
Release date
4 September 1960 (Venice Film Festival)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Writer Kennaway served with the Gordon Highlanders, and the title refers to the bagpiping that accompanies every important action of the regiment. The original pipe music was composed by Malcolm Arnold, who also wrote the music for The Bridge on the River Kwai.[1] The film was generally well received by critics, the acting in particular garnering praise. Kennaway's screenplay was nominated for an Oscar.


Set in 1948,[2] the film opens in an officers' mess of an unnamed Highland Regiment, soon after his daughter Morag arrives on post. Acting Lieutenant Colonel Jock Sinclair (Alec Guinness) announces this will be his last day as commanding officer. The hard-drinking Sinclair, who is still gazetted as a major despite being in command since the battalion's last full colonel was killed in action during the North African campaign of the Second World War, is to be replaced by the teetotal lieutenant colonel, Basil Barrow (John Mills). Although Sinclair led the battalion through the remainder of the war, winning a DSO and MM during El Alamein, Monte Cassino and "from Dover to Berlin", Brigade HQ considers Barrow a more appropriate peacetime commanding officer. A drunken Sinclair reveals his frustrations at his lowly rank versus Barrow: "I've acted Colonel, I should be Colonel, and by God... I will be Colonel!"

Colonel Barrow arrives early and observes the battalion's officers dancing rowdily, including Major Sinclair. Barrow declines sharing a whisky with Sinclair, although the departing commander replies, "We all drink whisky in this battalion." Barrow and Sinclair icily swap their military backgrounds. Sinclair joined the regiment as an enlisted bandsman in Glasgow and rose through the ranks, winning the Military Medal and Distinguished Service Order during the war. Barrow by contrast, came to the regiment from Eton to Oxford University — both in England. His ancestors were colonels of the regiment before him, although Barrow served only a year with the regiment in 1933. Before that, Barrow was assigned to "special duties", including lecturing at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and has been fifteen years away from the battalion. When Sinclair humorously recounts he was briefly in Barlinnie Prison for being drunk and disorderly (also in 1933), Barrow reservedly mentions his experience as a prisoner in a Japanese POW camp. Sinclair dismissively assumes Barrow received preferential treatment being an officer ("officers' privileges and amateur dramatics"). In fact, Barrow was deeply, psychologically scarred after being tortured by the Japanese, which he does not reveal to Sinclair, who not-so-privately resents his being replaced by a "stupid wee man". Meanwhile, Morag (Susannah York), Sinclair's daughter, is observed illicitly meeting an enlisted piper, Corporal Piper Ian Fraser (John Fraser).

Barrow immediately passes several orders designed to instil discipline in the battalion — that Sinclair had allowed to slip. Particularly controversial is an order that all officers take lessons in Highland dancing in an effort to make their customary rowdy style more formal and suitable for mixed company. However the unchanged energetic dancing of the officers, led by a drunken Sinclair at Barrow's first cocktail party with the townspeople, incites his anger. An outburst by Barrow only further damages his own authority.

Tensions come to a head when Major Sinclair publicly assaults the uniformed piper he discovers with his daughter in a pub – "bashing a corporal" as he put it. Barrow decides an official report to the Brigade must be made, meaning an imminent court-martial, even though he is aware the action will further erode his popularity and authority within the battalion. Eventually, Sinclair persuades Barrow to back down on the inquiry, giving Barrow his word that he will support him in the future ("We'd make a good team."). Barrow's decision further undermines his own authority, as Sinclair breaks his promise and such support never materializes. Indeed, other officers, notably Captain Alec Rattray (Richard Leech), treat Barrow with a renewed lack of respect. The second in command, Major Charlie Scott — with glacial cruelty — implies that it is Sinclair who is really running the battalion, because he forced Barrow to dismiss the charges against him. Barrow is now alienated from both Sinclair's clique and the officers who formerly supported him. Later, from the officers recreation area, a gunshot is heard. Soon, an investigation concludes that Barrow committed suicide (the actual event is unseen).

Sinclair soon realises that his own behavior is to blame for Barrow's tragic death. He calls the officers to a meeting and announces plans for a grandiose funeral fit for a field marshal, complete with a march through the town in which all the "Tunes of Glory" will be played by the pipers. He lists the tunes he wishes to be played: "Scotland the Brave", "The Nut Brown Maiden" and "The Bonnets of Bonnie Dundee". When it is pointed out how out disproportionate the plans are to the circumstances, especially given the manner of the colonel's death, Sinclair insists his death was not a suicide. He confesses to the men that he himself could well be the murderer and the other senior officers fellow accomplices — with the exception of the colonel's adjutant. Sinclair suffers a nervous breakdown and is escorted from the barracks, while the officers and men salute as he passes during the closing scene.



The film was initially to be made at Ealing Studios, with Michael Relph as producer and Jack Hawkins playing Sinclair. At the time that it was at Ealing, Kenneth Tynan, then working as a script reader, criticized the first draft screenplay as having "too much army-worship in it." That view was shared by director Alexander Mackendrick. By the time Kennaway rewrote the script, Ealing had lost interest and Hawkins was no longer available. The film was then picked up by the independent producer Colin Leslie, who interested Mills in the project.[2]

Accounts differ as to how the leading roles were cast. Mills wrote that he and Guinness "tossed for it," while Guinness recalled that he had originally been offered the role of Barrow but preferred Sinclair. The role of Barrow might have been too close to that of Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai. Sinclair has been described as "anti-Nicholson".[2]

Tunes of Glory was shot at Shepperton Studios in London. The film's sets were designed by the art director Wilfred Shingleton. Establishing location shots were done at Stirling Castle in Stirling, Scotland. Stirling Castle is the Regimental Headquarters of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders[3] but in fact James Kennaway served with the Gordon Highlanders. Although the production was initially offered broad co-operation to film within the castle from the commanding officer there, as long as it didn't disrupt the regiment's [Argyll's] routine, after seeing a lurid paperback cover for Kennaway's book, that co-operation evaporated, and the production was only allowed to shoot distant exterior shots of the castle.[1]

Director Ronald Neame worked with Guinness on The Horse's Mouth (1958), and a number of other participants were also involved in both films, including actress Kay Walsh, cinematographer Arthur Ibbetson and editor Anne V. Coates.[1] The film was Susannah York's film debut.[3]


Writing in Esquire, Dwight Macdonald called Tunes of Glory a "limited but satisfying tale," and wrote that "it is one of those films, like Zinnemann’s Sundowners, which are of little interest cinematically and out of fashion thematically (no sex, no violence, no low life) and yet manage to be very good entertainment."[4]

The film was praised by Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, who wrote "Not only do Alec Guinness and John Mills superlatively adorn the two top roles in this drama of professional military men, but also every actor, down to the walk-ons, acquits himself handsomely."[5]

Variety called Ronald Neame’s direction "crisp and vigorous," and said that Mills had a "tough assignment" to appear opposite Guinness, "particularly in a fundamentally unsympathetic role, but he is always a match for his co-star."[6]

The film's screenplay, and especially the final scene showing Sinclair's breakdown, was criticized by some critics at the time of release. One critic wrote in Sight & Sound that the ending was "inexcusable" and that the scene is "far less one of tragic remorse than gauchely contrived emotionalism."[2]

Tunes of Glory has a 73% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregation site.[7]

Awards and honoursEdit

James Kennaway, who adapted the screenplay from his novel, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, but lost to Elmer Gantry. It also received numerous BAFTA nominations, including Best Film, Best British Film, Best British Screenplay and Best Actor nominations for both Guinness and Mills.[8]

The film was the official British entry at the 1960 Venice Film Festival, and John Mills won the Best Actor award there.[3] That same year the film was named "Best Foreign Film" by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.[9]


Tunes of Glory was adapted for BBC Radio 4's Monday Play by B.C. Cummins in April 1976.

Tunes of Glory was adapted for the stage by Michael Lunney, who directed a production of it which toured Britain in 2006.[10][11]

Home videoEdit

Tunes of Glory is available on DVD from Criterion and Metrodome. It was released on Blu-ray by Criterion in December 2019 with a 4K digital restoration.


Alfred Hitchcock called Tunes of Glory "one of the best films ever made," Neil Sinyard writes in The Cinema of Britain and Ireland, "so it is curious that the film rarely finds a place in the established canon of great British films." It was not included in the list of 100 greatest British films of the century compiled by the British Film Institute in 1999. Sinyard observes that the film came too late to be part of the spate of popular 1950s British war films, and was too dark to be part of that genre. He notes that it seemed "slightly old-fashioned" when compared to British New Wave films that came out at the time, such as Room at the Top.[2]

Tunes of Glory was preserved by the Academy Film Archive in 2018.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d "Tunes of Glory". TCM. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e Sinyard, Neil (2005). McFarlane, Brian (ed.). The Cinema of Britain and Ireland. Wallflower Press. pp. 113–121. ISBN 978-1-904764-38-0.
  3. ^ a b c TCM Notes
  4. ^ Macdonald, Dwight (February 1960). "Films: Low life, high life, with notes on Cocteau, Cassavetes". Esquire. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  5. ^ Crowther, Bosley (21 December 1960). "Guinness and Mills Star in 'Tunes of Glory'". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  6. ^ Variety Staff (1 January 1960). "Tunes of Glory". Variety. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  7. ^ "Tunes of Glory (1960)". Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  8. ^ IMDB Awards
  9. ^ AllMovie Guide Awards
  10. ^ Brown, Kay. "Tunes of Glory" review
  11. ^ "Tunes of Glory" Archived 24 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine London Theatre Database
  12. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.

External linksEdit